March 29, 2014 - Nottingham Contemporary - Somewhat Abstract
March 29, 2014

Somewhat Abstract

Wolfgang Tillmans, paper drop (London), 2008. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London @ the artist. Courtesy Maureen Paley, London.

Somewhat Abstract
Selections from The Arts Council Collection

12 April–29 June 2014

Nottingham Contemporary
Weekday Cross
NG1 2GB 

Founded in 1946, The Arts Council Collection is the largest national loan collection of modern and British art. Sixty-nine artists are featured in this exhibition, including Tomma Abts, Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon, Peter Blake, Zarina Bhimji, Anthony Caro, Helen Chadwick, Prunella Clough, Richard Deacon, Jeremy Deller, Barry Flanagan, Gilbert and George, Barbara Hepworth, Eduardo Paolozzi, Bridget Riley, Wolfgang Tillmans, Mark Wallinger, Rebecca Warren, Cathy Wilkes and Rachel Whiteread. It is curated by Nottingham Contemporary’s Director, Alex Farquharson, who currently serves on the Collection’s Acquisitions Committee. Somewhat Abstract is the largest exhibition from The Arts Council Collection since 2006.

Spanning seven decades, the exhibition’s common thread is positions around abstraction. Most of the art works in the exhibition are near-abstract or made with abstraction in mind, although there are major examples of complete abstraction too. In many of these works, motifs and things from the world have undergone transformation: they have been abstracted, lost definition, become something else, while also retaining some sense of where they’ve come from. Here, the verb ‘to abstract’ is more applicable than the noun form.

For this reason the exhibition abounds with non-aesthetic ideas, perspectives and allusions—to nature and landscape, to architecture and technology, to history and power, to existential questions and bodily experience, to class and gender, to social and economic systems, to modelling and cartography, and to micro and macroscopic scales. While ‘abstraction’ has a particular usage in art, the many other uses of the word may be equally useful in thinking about much of the work in the exhibition—for example, a thought or theory that is abstract is at a remove from particular facts and actual circumstances. The systems, models, diagrams and schema we use to explain the world, or to control it, are at least somewhat abstract. 

While virtually every significant movement in art since World War II is somehow touched on, the majority of artists in the exhibition belong in the more ambiguous spaces between the ‘isms’ familiar from textbook art histories—there are after all as many significant artists whose work falls outside these categories as those associated with them.

Paint on canvas is common in the exhibition, as is bronze sculpture, but the exhibition also features work in media and materials less associated with abstract art, such as photography, cast resin, Plasticine, pig’s blood and burnt objects. One work takes the form of a magnificent art deco chandelier flashing on and off according to a text by John Cage translated into morse code (Cerith Wyn Evans). While in the mid-20th century abstraction and representation were more or less in total opposition, with artists obliged to take sides, nowadays many artists move nimbly in and out of abstraction, as if, in the contemporary world, the old distinction between abstraction and reality no longer holds. Abstractions shape our world, through, for example, minimalist architecture and global finance, while the digital images that now pervade our lives are formed from squares of electronic light. 

Somewhat Abstract is the largest exhibition of work from the Arts Council Collection since Hayward Gallery’s How to Improve the World, 2006.


Nottingham Contemporary presents Somewhat Abstract
Nottingham Contemporary
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